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German for Beginners
Lesson 3

German Nouns and Gender

der | die | das - ein | eine | ein

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German nouns (a person, place or thing, Substantive) are very easy to spot: they always begin with a CAPITAL letter! German is the only world language that capitalizes all nouns. Although there has been debate over the years about doing away with this rather inefficient practice, for now ALL German nouns must begin with a capital letter. Whether we are talking about a simple tree (ein Baum) or Deutsche Bank, any noun is capitalized in German. (MORE: Capitalization in German, an article by your Guide.)

The other important thing for English-speakers to understand about German nouns is the matter of gender. Just as we learned about the pronouns in the previous lesson, German nouns parallel he, she and it (er, sie, es) by also being masculine (der - DARE), feminine (die - DEE) or neuter (das - DAHSS). We can see the parallel very clearly by the ending letters for each article/pronoun: der = er, die = sie, das = es.


Always learn German nouns with their genders! Although our Gender Hints page tells you ways by which it is possible to know the gender of some German nouns, there is no better way than to simply learn each noun and its gender together. Don't just learn Baum (tree), learn der Baum (the tree)!

Der, die and das are the same as "the" in English - the DEFINITE ARTICLE. In German the definite article is much more important than it is in English. For one thing, it is used more often. In English we might say: "Nature is wonderful." In German, the article would be also be included: "Die Natur ist wunderschön." So knowing which article to use becomes even more important!

The INDEFINITE ARTICLE ("a" or "an" in English) is ein or eine in German. Ein basically means "one" and like the definite article, it indicates the gender of the noun it goes with (eine or ein). For a feminine noun, only eine can be used (in the nominative case). For masculine or neuter nouns, only ein is correct. This is a very important concept to learn! It is also reflected in the use of possessive adjectives such as sein(e) (his) or mein(e) (my), which are also called "ein-words."

Gender is sometimes natural-der Mann/ein Mann (man, masc.), die Frau/eine Frau (woman, fem.), but more often it is not: das Mädchen (girl, neuter). Nor does noun gender carry over from one language to another. The sun is feminine in German (die Sonne) but masculine in Spanish (el sol). A table is masculine in German (der Tisch) but feminine in French (la table). But it is the WORD, not the thing that has gender, and it makes little sense to worry about the whys of gender. Just concentrate on learning the genders. Memorization is key, but you can also use little hints to help you remember a noun's gender. For example, to remind yourself that die Natur, nature, is feminine, you might think of "Mother Nature." As you continue your studies, always learn a new noun and its gender together-as a unit. This important step will become increasingly important as you advance in German.

To learn more about German nouns and gender, study the chart below carefully, then read the article Gender Hints and try our self-scoring quiz on nouns and gender. You can hear the pronunciation of the words (MP3 audio) in each gender group by clicking on any noun.

NOUNS - Substantive
AUDIO Click on a linked word to hear it. (MP3)
NOMINATIVE SINGULAR
Artikel Gender Sample Nouns
der
ein
masc. der Bahnhof (train station), Sohn (son), Vater (father), Wagen (car), Zug (draft, parade, train)
AUDIO: Hear All the Masculine Nouns
die
eine
fem. die Anlage (installation, park), Dame (lady), Festung (fortress), Gesundheit (health), Luft (air)
AUDIO: Hear All the Feminine Nouns
das
ein
neut. das Boot (boat), Dach (roof), Geld (money), Jahr (year), Kino (cinema, movie theater), Radio
AUDIO: Hear All the Neuter Nouns
NOMINATIVE PLURAL
Artikel Gender Sample Nouns (Plurals)
die
keine
meine
plur. die Bücher (books), Dächer (roofs), Fenster (windows), Jahre (years), Radios, Söhne (sons), Zeitungen (newspapers)
Note: All nouns, of any gender, become die in the plural. (Ein can't be plural, but other so-called ein-words can: keine [none], meine [my], seine [his], etc.) That's the good news. The bad news is that there are about a dozen ways to form the plural of German nouns, only one of which is to add an "s" - as in English. - See the lesson and quiz Gender Hints for more.
AUDIO: Hear All the Plural Nouns

MORE > German Gender Hints
MORE > German Noun Suffixes and Gender - Rules and exceptions

German Gender Quiz
A self-scoring quiz to test your mastery of noun genders. (But learn the nouns and genders here first!)

Previous Lesson (Lektion 2)

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German for Beginners - Contents


Related Pages

German Noun Suffixes and Gender
A special glossary of rules and exceptions for common German noun endings (-heit, -ung, -in, etc.).

Gender Hints
Yes, for many German nouns you don't have to guess the gender... if you know the tricks of the trade! Also leads to our gender quiz.

Capitalization in German
Nouns aren't the only words that are capitalized in German. An overview of the rules for German capitalization, with a comparison of English and German.

When the Plural is Singular!
Avoiding English-German noun confusion. German nouns that are singular or plural when the English noun is the opposite.

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